The secret to loving yourself. (Part 1)
Hello, dear readers! And welcome back to my little website on the big world wide web. I hope you find yourself having a good day, wherever you are. Fall is in the air, isn't it? I've been sitting on this entry for awhile and from the time that I started writing it until now, the days have gotten shorter, the mornings cooler, and the smells more delicious. I used to hate fall, but now I love it. I'm a huge sucker for pumpkin spice everything (yes, I know I'm basic) and fall colours. Also, this year I've got a cute boyfriend to snuggle up to in our drafty apartment, so I'm looking forward to lots of that. I'm a bear at heart...I friggen' love hibernating.
Anyways, moving along.
Today we're talking about self-compassion. I've been hearing this topic come up a lot recently in the 100+ podcasts, self-help books, and various other websites I overwhelm myself with daily, and it's intrinsic to the all elusive "love yourself" mantra that's heard ad nauseum. At first glance, self-compassion seems fairly easy to comprehend, but in actuality, it is a never-ending struggle against the negativity in your head. In Part 2 of this series, I'll provide you with self-compassion methods to increase your mental well-being.
But, I'm getting ahead of myself.
What is self-compassion?
According to the Wikipedia, "Self-compassion is extending compassion to one's self in instances of perceived inadequacy, failure, or general suffering."
Sounds easy enough, right?
It's not. Trust me. I've been trying to do this for the past few months, and it's really fucking difficult. It's especially hard if you're one of those people with perfectionist tendencies. With that said, being mindful about how terrible I've been treating myself for YEARS, is very eye-opening.
I can tear myself down over a million different things in one day. I can silently berate myself for not waking up early enough. I can be annoyed that I forgot to make lunch the day before, so now I have to go to the supermarket and pay for it. I can sigh and shake my head because my hair is not co-operating. I can get mad at myself for making a mistake with my students, or for having a messy classroom, or for saying that stupid thing to a friend. I'll feel guilty or pissed off at myself for skipping a day at the gym, eating a chocolate bar, or not 'being healthy enough'.
Every day. These things go through my head every, single, day.
In essence, I am a bully to myself.
The funny thing is, I'm the -only- person I treat this way on a daily basis. I try to be kind and compassionate to my boyfriend, students, family, and friends. If my friends are having a rough day, I'll try to be there to lend a sympathetic ear. If my boyfriend voices his insecurities, I'll listen and try to come up with a solution. I don't mentally berate them for being weak or human. I take them as they are and deal with the situation to the best of my ability. Obviously, I'm not perfect - but I try to do the best I can with other people. I think that's the same for most people.
I wasn't really aware of the discrepancy between my self-talk and how I treat other people before. These thoughts were even more insidious because I just didn't realize that these thoughts weren't normal. I thought everyone talked to themselves in this way - everyone had a hyper critic living in their head that would say mean, spiteful things. It wasn't until I found out that that's not the case, that I was actively able to see these thoughts for what they are - poison.
So, step one to loving yourself:
Recognize when your thoughts are needlessly mean, hurtful, or spiteful.
When you think to yourself, "Damn, why are you being so stupid right now?" you need to keep track of that. Don't just let that thought float through your head like a breeze through an open window. Hold onto that and -actively- keep note of it. At this point, you don't even need to do anything with it. A way that I do this is I'll think, "Why are you being so stupid right now?" and then immediately after, "Well, that wasn't very nice." You don't need to write anything down, keep a tally, text your friends, or anything like that. Just, in your beautiful brain, recognize and call out those mean thoughts for what they are. The more you do this, the better idea you'll have about where you stand. Are you constantly belittling yourself? Do you do this more at work? At home? What are your stressors that set you off into your negativity spiral? Just noticing those thoughts that used to sneak under your radar can actually tell you a lot about yourself and your life.
Challenge those thoughts.
After you've started noticing your brain's snide comments for a week or two, you can start to actively challenge those comments. This takes a little bit more brain-work, but this is where you can really start to make big changes to your self-esteem and overall happiness. So, let's take the comment from above, "Damn, why are you being so stupid right now?" The first step is to notice the comment and reply, "Well, that wasn't very nice..." and then from there, challenge it. "Why did you think that? Yeah, you said that stupid thing right now BUT we both know you were rushed for an answer. You're not stupid, you just made a mistake. Everyone does. Don't worry about it."
Don't do this once or twice. Do this -every time- you're mean to yourself. You are your own best lawyer. So lawyer up and fight those misconceptions and deadly thoughts that seem to come out of nowhere. Fight them and make yourself think about them rationally. So many of these thoughts are doused in needless emotions, and to break them apart, you need to use logic and rationality. No absolutes. No agreeing with the mean voice in your head. Tell yourself that you're human. Remind yourself of that cool thing you did this morning. Shout into your mean brain to CHILL THE HELL OUT. Fight the bully that's always whispering mean things to you and making you feel "not-good-enough."
After completing the last step, you should be feeling a bit better about yourself. See, you're not such a terrible human being! You're just a human who makes mistakes sometimes. You're like the other 100% of the population....and pretty much all living creatures....and...well, everything that exists.
But by now, you should know what things set you off and what makes you feel bad about yourself. Maybe it's when you forget to do something, or when you procrastinate on a project (*cough*ME*cough*), or when you don't go to the gym. Maybe it's when you say that bitchy thing to your boyfriend that you know will wind him up. Maybe it's when you didn't sleep enough the night before and you feel like a goddamn zombie at work.
WHATEVER THAT THING IS, make up a plan to get rid of it or minimize it's negative reaction in your life.
This thing obviously causes you psychological stress. You know that it's what starts the spiral. So, you need to stop it in its tracks. You need to figure out a way to deal with this situation in a healthy manner. Why? Because your happiness and sense of well-being depend on it.
So, write it down. And it doesn't have to be a 12-step program where you stand on a podium or anything. This doesn't need to take years of your life. Literally, it can take you 2 minutes.
Forgetfulness: Download a list app to help you prioritize your daily tasks.
Procrastination: Give yourself a reward for finishing your project or get a buddy to help you stay on track.
Don't go the gym: Make a schedule of gym days. Put your clothes in front of the door on those days so you don't have a choice. Get an at-home app for workouts so you can work-out even if you don't leave your house.
Being a bitch: Give your boyfriend a key word as a "time out" and tell him to use it when you say something rude or when you're picking a fight. When you hear that word, you need to stop with what you're saying and reflect. Come back to the topic another time in a more constructive manner.
Sleep: Get on a sleep schedule. Use apps or your alarm to tell you what time to go to bed. Make a bedtime routine to get you ready to sleep. Read books instead of Reddit....Cass.
You may or may not think all of my tips are valid, and that's fair. But this isn't about me. This is about you. And YOU know you. You live inside you. So, you need to come up with an action plan to make yourself feel better and to make your life easier. It's pretty easy to sit back and say, "Well, yeah. I'm more aware of my mean thoughts! That should be good enough." Well, no, actually, it's not. Because something is causing those mean thoughts, and I'd bet you a hundred dollars, that it's what in your environment. It's what's around you, and how you react to those things. This is usually the hardest step, because often we feel trapped in our lives. It's hard to see a way out when things seem so stuck. It just takes looking at the problems in a different, practical way to move forward.
So, as a quick TL;DR:
Step One: Recognize your mean, self-harming thoughts
Step Two: Challenge those thoughts
Step Three: Make a plan to minimize the negative experiences in your life.
Will it take time? You bet. Will it be hard? Definitely. Am I an expert at it? No, not at all. Every day I'm still trying to learn how to be nicer to myself. But that's the thing. I'm trying. And that's really all you can ask from yourself. So, give it a shot! You don't really have much to lose, and trust me, you have a lot to gain. It's nice when you're a friend to yourself - and that will take you a lot further than you ever would have imagined.
Next week, stay tuned for Part 2. I'll be giving you some methods to increase the self-compassion for yourself....and yes, there will of course be some practical skills you can put into...well, practice.
What do you think? Are a self-compassionate person? Are there any tips that you would like to add to my list? Anything you struggle with? Any books that you've read that have driven home this point? I'd love to hear from you!